Democrat Kenneth R. "Ken" Plum and Libertarian Donald E. Ferguson agree that voters have a clear choice in the campaign for the 36th House District seat. And from there, their philosophies of government could not diverge more sharply.
Plum, a 13-term incumbent and former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, touts his experience in Richmond as his biggest asset. He's had little major opposition for much of his political life. At 63, the retired teacher and school administrator from Reston devotes himself full time to legislative work he calls a "labor of love."
He called his opponent a "well-mannered young man who presents himself very well but has some wacky ideas."
Ferguson, 28, moved to Reston this year from Falls Church and is making his first run for office. He works as an aide to Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), a Loudoun County supervisor who runs an anti-gay lobbying group. Before that Ferguson worked as an aide to a Republican congressman from Texas and most recently for Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group.
Ferguson is a passionate supporter of gun rights and says he believes that government should be limited to protecting public safety and constitutional rights. He says private education has worked better than public education.
He said of his opponent, "Ken Plum has yet to learn you can't tax your way out of trouble."
About 90 percent of the district is composed of heavily Democratic Reston; a few precincts to the south make up the rest.
Plum said he is proud of a study he pushed the General Assembly to conduct that led this year to expanded infant screening that can detect mental retardation and other disorders. He also said he played a major role in bringing moderate lawmakers into a coalition that led to passage of last year's tax package, which raised money for education, public safety and health care.
Ferguson criticizes Plum's brief support several years ago of a bill allowing referendums to raise local income taxes. Plum called the criticism a misrepresentation. He said he supported such a bill as a last-ditch option for the state to replace the revenue lost when the Gilmore administration cut the car tax. Eventually that revenue was made up by the state.
"It's much ado about nothing," Plum said. "If the bill came around today, I wouldn't sign on to it."
The candidates agree that easing traffic congestion is a hot topic on voters' minds. Plum, founding chairman of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, is an avid supporter of extending Metrorail from West Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue in Reston and eventually to Dulles International Airport. Ferguson opposes the rail project and says that building an additional lane on the Dulles Toll Road for rapid transit buses would be the best way out of gridlock.
Ferguson, a member of several gun rights groups, favors a repeal of the state law limiting handgun purchases to one a month. "I don't really see why constitutional rights are rationed by the government," he said. Plum said his opponent "needs to realize that society is not a place where we can have gunslingers walking around town."
The candidates have debated once, before the Reston Citizens Association. Fundraising has been lopsided, with Plum collecting $161,851 as of Sept. 30 and Ferguson raising $10,431, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks campaign contributions.